by Steve Leveen
“Beginning a collection is like dropping a
pebble in the waterthe concentric rings expand and expand,” explains my
friend and neighbor Roger Hurlburt. A professor of art history and former
movie reviewer, Roger was a child prodigy in the collecting business,
starting with birds' nests, arrowheads and marbles when he was 8. Now 51,
he blends his knowledge of fine art with appreciation for some of the
quirkiest ephemera in America.
In the house that he and his wife, Susan, built around their collections, Big
Little Books line an entire wall of
the family room. Susan's wedding cake figurines live happily on a living room shelf. Toy ray guns from the 1930s share wall space with
In the library, wide walls of books bristle with signed movie star photos and
lobby cards. A plaster cast of the original Maltese falcon used on the
movie set perches on a bookshelf niche. In a corner, a spin rack
holds thousands of old postcards. On the
huge antique table that serves as Rogerís desk, his computer is dwarfed by
antique and modern bronzes, toy tops and antique fishing lures. You learn
about one thing, says Roger, and that leads to another and
Things. As a college student, I was
suspicious of things and people who collected them. Like Emerson, I felt
we needed to care less about things and more about people. Now I know that
caring about things can help us connect more with people.
The late Stanley Marcus, a friend and mentor, once told me how collecting had
given meaning to his travels, especially after he retired from Neiman
Marcus. Mr. Stanley, as he was affectionately known, joyfully gathered
together several collections over the years, only to donate them later. He
gave his collection of pre-Columbian folk art to the Dallas Museum of Art.
His superb collection of miniature books is now at Southern Methodist
"There’s more fun in the hunt than the having," says
Roger. And de-collecting can be as rewarding as collecting, whether
you donate your collection or sell it.
Roger once paid for a first-class trip to
Europe for Susan and himself with the sale of his last remaining and
exceedingly rare baseball card. Another friend made the down payment on
his house with the check he received from selling his Wahl-Eversharp
fountain pens. But you
shouldn’t collect for the money, advises Roger. Go for what you love, even
if it’s of no monetary valuelike seed pods or bottle caps or smooth
pebbles that form concentric rings in water.
Howard and Judy Gale, photographers at Levenger by trade, are lifelong
antiques collectors. Their tiny cottage in Delray
rises to grand heights with no end of artfully arranged collections. In
their kitchen, a variegated cast-iron ring about 12 inches in diameter
hangs from the ceiling. Once a display ring for buggy whips, today it
holds Judy's collection of buttonhooks that were used to fasten high boots and
long dresses. These two now-obsolete species, one holding the other, were
like two ancient ballroom dancers performing a tango for old time's sake.
They were also tactile connectors to Howard and Judy's grandparents, links
with the everyday lives of a far-off era.
To find products for our
own company, my wife, Lori, and I began going to antiques shows. While
our mission was finding things to reproduce, along the way I
gradually became a collector myself.
I now collect 20th-century globes, along with pencil sharpeners and inkwells.
These collections are business-related, but others are not. I'm drawn
to strange old toasters and vintage bugles,
and have a piece of trench art from World War I.
Over the years I have come to view collectors
differently from what I presumed during my youth. I know now that all
kinds of successful people enrich their lives through connections born of
Collectors discern value where others just see
stuff. They have a passion for learning and ideas, two things they’re more
than willing to share with others.
One might conclude that the golden age of
collecting is over, since there are now so many collectors of so many
things. Yet there has been no slowdown in the production of goods that I
What new objects do people take for granted
today that may become tomorrow’s treasures? What objects make you smile
and cause you to wonder? And what do you want to preserve for some young
hands to connect with a century from now?